THIS region boasts many strange creatures that may be considered only partially human. These range from witches to giants by way of trolls, fairies, hobs, ghosts and pixies.
Stories of their activities are part of our folklore when, at times, as such tales were in circulation long before radio and television and before we can be led to believe that they are, or perhaps were, very real beings. This may be especially so when we learn about giant dragons, barguests or creatures like the Lambton Worm and various griffins or the jabberwocky.
It seems that belief in fairies and even giants may stem from our childhood when our imagination was nurtured by fairy stories or tales of great bravery. The yarns of former times told of daring and courage when young knights conquered monsters of all kinds from giants to fire-breathing dragons. Some even rescued damsels in distress who were the victims of giants or dragons.
In wondering how these highly unlikely stories arose, we should remember that many originated long before most people could read or write, and professional entertainers went from village to village telling stories in return for food or perhaps somewhere to rest and sleep for the night. The more incredulous the tale, the more eager were the people to hear its conclusion and as all good stories must end, the finale was invariably a happy one. The dragon was killed, the giant driven off and the ghost returned to the grave from whence it had risen.
Most people could read them in newspapers, magazines or books, They could only have been spread by word of mouth, and elaborated upon along the way!
Many of us are surprised at the speed of a story circulating by word of mouth in our own community. If something dramatic occurs, we may become aware of it long before it is circulated via the media. This awareness helps us to understand how our ancestors learnt of news from afar. How long did it take, I wonder, for the people of this region to hear about the Great Fire of London in 1666, incidentally the year in which communication by the use of semaphore signalling was pioneered by Lord Worcester? And when the news reached this region, how would the truth vary from what had actually happened?
This thought leads me to our history books. How accurate are they? Or do they merely reflect the teaching of the victorious side? It is widely accepted that some winning nations never refer to the atrocities or illegalities they committed to ensure victory. However, such matters have a habit of emerging many years later.
In this context I found it interesting when I was a police officer taking statements from witnesses to some event, say a traffic accident. It was quite astonishing how the driver’s account differed from that of the witnesses. But if there was more than one witness, then their accounts would also often vary.
The truth was often revealed by marks left on the road or the damage to the vehicles.
So what has all this got to do with seeing ghosts or fighting dragons? The answer is that it is all story-telling in one form or another. Determining the difference between fact and fiction is never easy and a skilled story-teller can convince the audience that the most unlikely story is true. This reminds me of a vicar at Burnsall who lost the notes for his sermon and said he would read a passage from the Bible instead because it was far better than his sermon. On another occasion a mischievous parishioner mixed up the notes for one of his sermons but the vicar decided to read them in their mixed-up order.
He told the congregation they would have to work out what he was trying to say. I wonder where politicians fit into this scheme of things?
AS I write these notes on a brand-new word processor that is complex to say the least, a small number of house martins are flying above our garden.
I have not seen any during the summer, but these notes are being written on a warm, sunny day in early October and it may require a touch of frost to persuade them to return to a warmer place. So far as our local house martins are concerned, it does seem they arrived later than usual but this might not apply to others in this region.
However, it does seem that our local swallows and swifts have departed upon their long trek to Africa, perhaps halting several times en route. Following their departure, many of our garden birds have returned and are making good use of our bird feeders. A robin sings wistfully in nearby birches whilst great tits, blue tits and coal tits visit the feeders which contain peanuts. The coal tits have registered their disapproval of our presence in the garden by chattering aggressively whenever we enjoy the autumn sunshine but the great tits and blue tits continue their feeding almost as if we are not present.
Other species seen and heard in our garden in recent weeks include the regulars – blackbirds, wood pigeons, the occasional magpie, crows, a barn owl, a cock pheasant, greenfinches and a pair of buzzards who soar in circles overhead and announce their presence with their distinctive mewing calls. I think I saw a peregrine falcon overhead too, but can’t be sure.
One of the most interesting garden visitors this year was a willow warbler who announced his presence with a high-pitched hoo-eee call as he flitted among our shrubs.
Most difficult to see among the foliage of trees and bushes due to his greenish plumage, he returned on several occasions, always announcing his arrival with his familiar loud call. We knew when he had arrived due to that call and in time managed, with binoculars, to locate him either in our garden or in the neighbouring birch trees.
He also had a beautiful song which was once described to me as a sixpence being spun on a China plate and being allowed to wind down until it stopped. This warbler, a summer visitor, is almost identical in appearance to a chiff-chaff but their songs distinguish one from the other.
Then as I broke off for lunch while writing these notes, I settled down at the table in the conservatory when a carrion crow arrived and settled on our lawn in full view from our lunch table. It had some food in its beak and although it was difficult to identify the food without binoculars it looked like a bread crust. The crow then marched up and down beside our fish pond, seemingly deciding whether or not to venture down to the water’s edge.
For several minutes, it walked along the edge of the water and then we understood its purpose. It was dunking the bread in the pond water to soften it and at that point, a juvenile crow arrived, expecting to be fed. Its brownish plumage identified it as a juvenile and so it was given its lunch, then both flew off together.
Crows are known for their intelligence and to eat shellfish will drop them from a height to crack their shells. In all, an interesting lunch time for us and the crows.